Archive for the ‘Learning to Think and Work Symbolically’ category

Making a Case for Trauma Complexes: Mending the Tear that Always shows…

June 12, 2019

I just decided to open this with a Neal Young lyric from Round and Round.

“Round and round and round we spin,
To weave a wall to hem us in,
It won’t be long, it won’t be long
How slow and slow and slow it goes,
To mend the tear that always shows.
It won’t be long, it won’t be long.”

What is with mending the tear that always shows? I am thinking this tear that always shows captures symbolically the universal experience of the time we encountered something beyond our emotional breaking point. Then, something has to give; symbolically, a tear accommodates this unbearable strain. Stein and Stein, in their discussion of Psychotherapy, Initiation and the Midlife Transition, suggest that these days, in the absence of formal rights of passage rituals for most westerners, the therapy setting can provide the container for transformative ritual processes. They reference the art and science of maieutics – midwifery – as an image for containing and supporting psyche in what is essentially a birthing process: the ego suffers a symbolic death in the process of getting more deeply connected to the guiding Self. The greater consciousness (Self) can not come through the lessor (ego) without a death.

I have suggested that in the absence of good enough ritual elders, traumas can be lived through, but remain essentially incomplete intitiatory experiences. At some point, in the midlife or later, we need to open up this encapsulated, episodic memory centered trauma complex in order to re-integrate the split off material and thereby gain conscious wisdom in the ways of the world.

Had an elder been present at the time of the original insult/injury, something like an episiotomy might have been indicated and offered, to mange the inevitability of the tear, in the service of enabling the birth of the greater awareness, while minimizing the scar tissue.

Here, below, I am trying on the idea that our universal challenge is each of us has suffered a tear somewhere along the way. For me, this tear points to the reality one has suffered through, survived, a core wound; this is a wound of disconnect. We then put in place all manner of workarounds.  Might we just accept and support, together, recognizing any and all lost and/or rejected parts of ourselves? (see not-me (Bromberg) For me the Bromberg frame recognizes all kinds of highly individualized modules of being,waiting to be invited back in; what I am talking about here is the idea that there is indeed a primary, ground zero tear that is the tear that always shows.

I believe Robert Johnson has describe this as the Fisher King wound; the wound which never heals, experienced/received at the time we first registered an emotional overwhelm which our consciousness at the time could not contain.

Walking it through:

You know, we’ve all had our troubles.

Something comes along, at some point, that you just can’t hold; consciousness is ruptured, overwhelmed; one becomes two.

Blessed psyche – blessed as in life saving – comes in and facilitates, manages, finesses this tear; we get split, disconnected, separated within our self. Symbolically, this psychological dismemberment is recorded as a death.

New defenses arise, support workarounds, adaptations. We get through, or not.

These wound-generated defenses form the basis of the partial cure. Partial in that it employs dissociation to cover up the reality of the now-buried-to-consciousness disconnect. Amnesia assists, amnesia for the amnesia enables. We go about our business.

For some, perhaps many or even most, this partial cure may be enough.

But, the fact is, until we can gain access, debride and bring healing into the primary wound, we will be characterologically challenged. Incapable of risking vulnerability, self-self and self-other communications will be burdened by an unseen constraint/constriction.

The partial cure at best functions as kind of governor on one’s ability to feel the feelings which inform emotional intimacy.

Healing this split requires we bridge this divide with consciousness.

Bridging the divide starts with bearing witness to the reality of the chasm.

Creating, embracing a mature consciousness which can priortize staying grounded enough, connected enough, safe enough, to hold the energies of the original split without splitting, is a big first step. This is the place of bearing witness. We recognize the importance of learning to open and hold steady, as we can, in the experience of an immersion into the images and affects which required the split at the time of the overwhelm. Rilke’s image of A Man Watching comes to mind here:

“I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.”

How can we hear, bear, love, in the face of such distress?

Our work is with the partial cure until such time as we can gain access to the hidden disconnect. I am thinking Jung and Donald Kalsched’s work with the divided self complex frame* is about this issue at a radical level. Perhaps it will be helpful to think about a hierarchical short list of events/episodes/scenes contributing to the composite divided self complex.

Accessing the split off trauma complex, suffering an affective immersion into the dissociated experience, heals the split. (See Sandner/Beebe on healing splits)

Understanding conceptually that increasing consciousness and well being puts one in the position to surface one’s inventory of split off episodes of trauma, one by one, sounds daunting. Really? Must I/we go there?

Gaining access to original, encapsulated scenes requires a shift in the defenses that have been deployed to maintain the encapsulation. In his discussions about the nature of Sacred Space, Robert Moore observed when sacred space is present, that which is a source of conflict for the individual or group will come in; sacred space pulls for the de-structuring of the ego, which in turn then allows for contact with that which is seeking to come into awareness. See Eliade.

With the piercing of the encapsulation, a direct, re-experiencing of the wounding becomes possible; the image and affect scene/picture of the whole-body-being-torn-in-two, the primary split, comes into view.

The experience of the relaxing of the typically decades long defense against re-membering the reality of the wound already suffered, is usually accompanied by a profound sense of relief, as one finally gets to consciously know what one has always known. This coming home to one’s self is the felt experience of re-establishing the connection with one’s lost self.

It is the completion of the incomplete initiatory experience.

*This link connects to a short essay I wrote about my divided self complex and includes references to Kalsched’s work in Trauma and the Soul, Kalsched, D. (2013) London: Routledge.

Thinking About Microfractures (Again!)

April 25, 2019

In am bringing to the top page an earlier post titled: Microfractures in Communication: So What’s the Big Deal? Check out the post and take a moment to go to the Wilkinson link for the description of the importance of the rupture, repair, and reconciliation cycle. This is as good as it gets in terms of recognizing the importance of getting triggered.

One of the most important concepts to get working in your own language is captured in this single powerful quote within a  quote:

“… microfractures in communication between patient and analyst are vital because they allow the transference to become ‘the engine of analysis, by contributing raw material from the patient’s internal world and history’.” See  Wilkinson on Microfractures

This observation applies to the transference arising in our personal relationships as well. We all need a way to recognize the raw material which will find a way to present its bill, as Alice Miller observed.

Emotionally charged reactions to what might normally be considered small breakdowns in our communication point directly to the raw material of unfinished emotional business.

In a blur moment, the hurt or offense taken by one or both parties at some level can be understood or seen as an out-picturing of an experiential state scene.

The quote suggests these unintended ruptures, in letting the raw material into the space we hold together, become the engine of the analysis. These are the grist for the mill. While we can always try to do our best, planning for the inevitable microfractures that will show up allows us embrace the blur with awareness and curiosity, not negative judgement. What can we learn about ourselves, each other? (see discussion on getting one’s buttons pushed)

This is another way to understand the positive aspect of “healing only occurs in the blur.” We need to support the necessity of going there with enough consciousness to gain our freedom from the unconsciousness driving the re-enactment of the wounding.

From the Author of “It’s Not Always Depression”

March 1, 2019

While attending the Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) Immersion training last month, Hilary Jacobs Hendel’s book It’s Not Always Depression was identified as a very important offering reflecting the fundamentals of how AEDP works to address transformative change. She apparently has been able to strike a nerve in the collective, helping lay people and professionals alike understand the importance of identifying core realities about family of origin issues, including neglect, trauma, etc.

I did attend a presentation years ago by a mental health managed care company orienting primary care physicians to the importance of helping patients recognize their depression or anxiety profiles as biological, setting up the primary intervention as biochemical. For me, the unintended(?) consequence of this was it discouraged physicians from believing in the importance of their role in standing in for the good enough ritual elder, who, in caring about your life and your troubles, helps you believe in your goodness, and your resources, in finding a way to better manage life’s joys and sorrows. I knew at the time this was message was just plain wrong and said so. It was a spirited debate, but, alas, many good people, providers and patients alike, continue to believe in the need to treat depression as a disease, not a reaction to human life situations.* (see comment below) I do appreciate the important role medications can play in the mobilization and recovery process, but we all are in need of support to recognize our life trajectory, and create a narrative which strives to hold the joys and sorrows which are both our ancestral inheritance and the source of enlivenment and meaning.

I just received an email from the AEDP list serve from Hilary and at first glance, find her blog to be chock full of helpful information. A recent posting demonstrating how she works with the change triangle is very clear and concise. See: https://www.hilaryjacobshendel.com/what-is-the-change-triangle-c18dd

Poking around, I see she has a series of four posts discussing “Getting to Know Your Three Brains”. See: https://www.hilaryjacobshendel.com/single-post/2018/04/09/Getting-To-Know-Your-3-Brains-Part-1-How-Brain-Knowledge-Helps. These are very focused daily process guides to correcting one’s one-sidedness, in the direction of hearing from our minds, emotions, and bodies. She identifies the Self as the core consciousness which can function as the Maestro in the orchestra of the three brains: mind, emotion, and body.

With response ease in mind, I wanted to post these resources and encourage you to check out her work. She seems to be an embodied translator of the AEDP process work, with very accessible applications for self-guiding this work.

Once again, it is curious to me about the way this model identifies the role of Self without any explicit cross referencing to Jung’s original work with Self, ie: ego-Self axis. I find this fascinating and exciting, in that it suggests to me an intersection of depth processes. In the mid 1990’s when I attended an update on self-psychology with my early psychoanalytic mentor Rowe Mortimer, I was delighted to hear him describe how the psychoanalytic schools think about internalized others, ie: mother, father, as “active, dynamic, willing entities. This language seemed a perfect, yes, I said PERFECT bridge to what I had been learning about Jung’s complex theory. It is just this bridge that is at the center of my explorations here: the interface between the experiential state‘s self-other-affect, and the nuclei of a trauma complex, reflecting the archetypal layer evoked by the emotional overwhelm. See: https://healingintheblur.com/2017/08/01/complexes-as-bridge-to-the-symbolic-world/

From my work, the archetypal layer and realm of the complexes contributes a depth which speaks to the possibilities of just how episodic memories of trauma get stored and are indeed waiting to be re-discovered by ego consciousness, in the service of healing original wounds. To be continued.

Brian Feldman on the Second Skin (and more!)

January 7, 2019

Excerpted from:

“The lost steps of infancy: Symbolization, analytic process and the growth of the self” by Brian Feldman, Ph.D. (2002). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 47:397-406

“I believe that there is a relational archetype that emerges at birth (and perhaps in utero). This relational archetype mediates object relations (both the internally and externally ones) from birth, and continues to have an influence throughout the life cycle. At birth the relational archetype forms the basis for early bonding and attachment experiences. Bowlby’s (1969) attachment research offers ample evidence that the infant is genetically wired to form emotional bonds with attachment figures from birth. In Jungian terms this could be seen as an archetypal configuration occurring at the infrared pole or instinctual pole of the archetype. At the ultra violet end of the archetypal spectrum exists imagery of the coniunctio: the relational couple. Jung explored the adult form of the coniunctio in the ‘Psychology of the transference’ (Jung 1946), and postulated that this archetypal configuration is at the core of the analytic process. I would agree with Jung that the coniunctio or the relational couple is central to analytic work. My research is an attempt to understand the developmental sequence of the coniunctio, starting from intrauterine life and infancy. Infant observation research has made me aware of the pivotal significance of the coniunctio or relational couple from birth. The mother-infant coniunctio forms the foundation of the later coniunctios that develop through the life cycle, and as we know from our clinical work, difficulties in the early mother/infant couple can lead to later developmental problems. It is helpful clinically to have an understanding of the early mother/infant coniunctio, as this often emerges first in the individuation process.

Author Information

In regard to the early mother/infant couple I would like to make the following points that also are derived from my ongoing research of observing babies:

1. The infant’s sense of agency, his capacity to create his universe in relationship with and in interaction with the significant figures in his environment is fundamental to understanding his development. This principle can also be related to analytic work and our need to support our analysand’s emerging agency in the analytic arena.

2. The infant’s mental, emotional and spiritual development evolves in the context of the early coniunctio. Mental, emotional, and spiritual developments do not evolve in isolation from the significant relationships in the baby’s life. The contextual component of the infant’s experience is fundamental to understanding his development.

3. The early mother/infant relationship is quite fluid in nature. There is an ongoing oscillation between states of connection and states of separateness. There are a rhythm and a tempo to these fluctuating states. The baby and mother undulate with each other in their particular dance. These observations are in contrast to Fordham’s (1985) conceptualizations that the infant is separate from birth, and are also divergent from Winnicott’s (1960) concept that the mother and infant are in a state of fusion during the earliest period of life.

4. The infant’s capacity for symbolization evolves from birth onward. The skin, as the first experience of a container, is fundamental in this regard. Through the experience of the skin the infant develops a concept of inside and outside spaces, with a boundary which separates the two distinct areas. The skin is the envelope in which the body is contained, and it is the skin that provides the points of contact with the external world. The skin acts as a delineator of boundaries between what is experienced to be outside and what is experienced as inside the self. This primary skin function involves the evolution of a psychic container within which thought, affect and symbolic experience can be held and reflected upon. This experience of the skin later evolves into a concept of an internal and external world. Difficulties in the evolution of the psychic skin, the mental representation of the sensory skin, can be seen in the analysis of primitive mental states where boundary difficulties are prominent. In these cases a secondary skin function can develop. The secondary skin function is a defensive manoeuver that helps to contain unbearable affects through the use of bodily and mental processes such as can emerge in eating disorders, sexual addictions as well as in other psychosomatic conditions (Feldman forthcoming). (Chuck’s bolding)

5. In my observations of babies I have been struck by the infant’s need to give shape to his bodily self by pushing his body up against hard and soft surfaces, and by the mouthing of and grasping hold of animate and inanimate objects. The experience of the infant being securely held in the arms of the mother or other significant caregiver, and the exploration of the body of the other, especially the touching of the skin of the breast during breast feeding as well as the touching of the mother’s face by the infant are fundamental in the development of a coherent body image.

6. The infant has a capacity for reverie as well as the mother. The infant’s reverie can be seen as the infant plays with the nipple and breast – the first play object. I would hypothesize that during these states of reverie the infant’s capacity for introjection develops and gradually the breast/nipple is introjected and forms the basis of a primal good internal object. The nipple in the mouth is at the core of the development of the coniunctio. It is the first interpenetration of subject and object, and this forms the basis for later schemes of object relations. This thesis is different from that developed by Bion (1962) and later Fordham (1985) where the mother’s capacity for reverie is seen as primary. I would place equal emphasis on the infant’s capacity for reverie and I would postulate that the first symbolizations are sensory and unfold in relationship and in connection with the mother and are not a result of separation and absence from her.”  

Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984, by Polly Young-Eisendrath (Source Quotes)

November 18, 2018

These source quotes are part of Polly Young-Eisendrath’s set up for the telling of the Arthurian legend Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell: “What is it that women desire most, above all else?” She orients us to the relationship problems associated with the loss of basic trust, and a cluster of associated archetypal energies: the archetypal feminine, the archetypal masculine, the Great Mother, the Terrible Mother, and the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex.

”The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell provides a unique map or template through which to view a woman’s response to loss of basic trust. Basic trust is defined as both a sense of “continuity of being” (to use D. W. Winnicott’s term) in relationship and as the experience of secure reliance on another person to provide for one’s primary emotional needs within the interpersonal field of that relationship. Basic trust is synonymous here with attachment and specifically related to John Bowlby’s concepts of attachment and loss in human relationship.

The attachment of infant to parent is the initial interpersonal field in which the archetypes of Great Mother and Terrible Mother, as typical human experiences, are activated… we need only the images of the Great and Terrible Mother, of the provident goddess and the dreaded hag, to help us grasp the characteristics of attachment that we will explore. More specifically, when a woman feels continuous and “held,” or adequately embraced, in a relationship of basic trust… she experiences herself as an agentive “person.” As members of our species, we are “personal” when we feel ourselves to be agents of our own lives (or “useful” to others) and to be worthwhile or esteemed. We feel ourselves to be contributing members of our species, reflected by our partners as adequate, agentive and valued.

The image of Great Mother, as authority and nurturer, is the positive emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “good.” Interpersonally, it is the experience of being loved, held and nurtured by the other, of feeling oneself as good. We all need Great Mother experiences to feel that our nurturance is bountiful and powerfully good. The image of Terrible Mother, as savage goddess or hag, is the negative and overwhelming emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “bad” and feeling oneself as ugly, mean, overwhelming and destructive. Both negative and positive attachment experiences involve strength and power; both are necessary in relationship, but neither should become the dominant mode for personal identity on a continuing basis. As with other archetypal states, Great Mother and Terrible Mother are transitory identity experiences which are “bigger” then the person.

The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell sketches out in a clear and practical way the problem of identifying with the hag or Terrible Mother. The hag, nag or bitch of contemporary couple relationships is quite prominent in psychotherapy literature as the domineering, suffocating, and overwhelming mother who must control family life at everyone’s expense. Through the help of the story, we come to respect the hag and to see her dilemma empathically. We learn that when relationships reach a breakdown in basic trust, when all rational solutions have failed and both partners are alienated, we should listen to the hag. Only she knows the answers that we’ll restore trust to the relationship.” (pp. 10-11)

The Importance of the Archetypal Feminine

For our purposes here, the archetypal feminine is the province of relating and caregiving. This is the domain of sustaining human and natural life within the human group. In other words, it concerns joining, attachment and involvement with people, things, and ideas. Its opposite, the archetypal masculine is the domain of distancing and separating. The masculine is characterized here as binding off, separating from, and aggression toward nature and human beings for survival purposes. The masculine involves dividing and separating, waging war and making boundaries, as well as analyzing people, things and ideas as opposed to the experience of joining with them. The following statement from Peggy Sanday, an anthropologist who has studied gender-related power differences in over 150 tribal and modern societies, further clarifies these distinctions as they pertain to human relating and culture:

‘One is struck with the degree to which the sexes conform to a rather basic conceptual symmetry, which is grounded in primary sex differences. Women give birth and growth children; men kill and make weapons. Men display their kills (be it an animal, a human head, or a scalp) with the same pride that women hold up the newly born. If birth and death are among the necessities of existence, then men and women contribute equally but in quite different ways to the continuance of life, and hence of culture.’ (Peggy Sanday Female Power and Male Dominance; On the Origins of Sexual Inequality, p. 5.

Because there are serious anthropological questions about whether these archetypal themes of “primary sex differences” are actually universally sorted out along the same gender lines i.e. feminine for women and masculine for men, I do not assume that women and men represent these archetypal domains through their gender identities. Rather, I’ve come to see both domains as potentially available to each gender for both identity and action purposes.

Our story helps us to understand what happens in intimate relations when the ordinary tasks of caregiving – managing a household, rearing children, sustaining emotional contact and soothing and healing wounds are devalued. When women and men devalue these activities, whether consciously or unconsciously, they fall into those habitual patterns and modes of relating which are connoted by the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex. This complex comprises behaviors, ideas, images and feelings that are concerned with escaping the intimacy of giving and receiving care. The negative mother complex is thus related to the idea of devaluing or excising the feminine from one’s identity and activity.

In our present society, men have a tendency to devalue the feminine in themselves and in women. Many feminine attributes are considered ”weakness” in traditional male gender identity. Consequently, men struggle to exclude and differ with women and with the concerns of care-giving in order to maintain separate identities as males…

Since women are the primary caretakers during almost everyone’s childhood years, the voice of female authority rings powerful tones. Men do not simply differ from women rationally or objectively; they often feel what Karen Horney has called “dread of women” and feel compelled to fight the feminine (both inside and outside) in order to experience any personal power in their male identity.

Women, on the other hand, must identify both with the devalued, “inferior” aspects of the feminine and with the powerful projections of female authority. Women feel at once too weak and too powerful in their mothering and authority. When basic trust is low and devaluing the feminine is high, then a woman tends to feel quite wholly identified with the negative and inferior powers of the hag, the witch or the Terrible Mother.” (pp. 12-13.)

“…We are ready, now, to turn to the story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell, which poses the question: “What do women really want?” This question, more than any other, provides a guide for us in doing therapy with couples who have lost basic attachment and trust in their relationships. Furthermore, it is a question which can lead us to the liberation and revaluing of the feminine both inside and out, in ourselves and in the lives of all men and women, for it directs us to the very heart of our humanity, to a concern for intimate relationship. Our failures in family making (not to be understood as the nuclear family ideal), our waste of human, animal and other natural resources, our despair about cooperating with human beings in other societies, and our oppression of our own partners and friends all reflect our devaluing of ordinary caregiving.” (p.15)

These source quotes are from: Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984.

For a Wikipedia orientation and brief overview of the story see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wedding_of_Sir_Gawain_and_Dame_Ragnelle

See also my post on Embracing the Hag.

Prince Lindworm: A Robert Bly Story Telling and Interpretation

January 26, 2018

This is a 38 minute YouTube audio tape of Robert Bly working the story known as Prince Lindworm. The description provided notes this is: “a parable of your relationship with the hostile twin coiled inside you—who was cast away during childhood, who waits years before roaring back into your life and begins swallowing those around you.” The story is … “Followed by an in-depth discussion of the story’s meaning at the 1993 Minnesota Men’s Conference. http://www.minnesotamensconference.com

I will be adding a few comments at a later date .

Standing up to complexes is always very difficult.

Embracing the Hag

November 9, 2017

Here is an interesting frame offered in the discussion following the story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell: What Do Woman Really Want.

“Embracing the hag’ initially entails coming to terms with what is dark and frightening in oneself so that one can release the partner from the burden of carrying one’s resentment, frustration and despair. Each person needs to recognize and sort through resistance and fear of change, her or his own repressions, and the dominance of particular aspects of one’s own self.

The problem of confronting and embracing the disappointments and frustrations in oneself can be conceptualized as a process of differentiation between the concerns of attachment and those of dominance within the couple relationship. When a distressed couple enters therapy (usually through the wife’s insistence or because a child has “brought” the couple to therapy by acting out), the partners are usually operating out of a “dominance-submission” posture rather than an “attachment-separation” one. The basic mode of intimate relationship is the instinctual pattern of attachment and separation. When this pattern, with its expressive gestures, symbolic meanings and recurring actions, is abandoned in favor of a dominance pattern or “power struggle,” each person feels threatened and depressed on a day-to-day basis. Instead of the two people relating emotionally as interdependent individuals with the ability to see and satisfy each other’s needs, they relate as a symbiotic or fused unit in which one person is “on top” and the other is “underneath”; there is a constant power struggle on every issue.

Although the two people may recognize the non-rational nature of their struggle (e.g. they may say, “It’s ridiculous, but we just can’t stop fighting over petty matters”), they feel it is impossible to stop struggling. Until both people face the meaning of dominance and submission in their relationship, which almost always involves the devaluing of the feminine, they cannot shift their concerns to attachment. Confrontation with the potential loss in their situation, through the therapists’ backing and elaborating the voice of the hag, often moves people out of the power struggle that had been so prominently in the center. This is just the first step in working through the dominance and submission concerns, however.” (p.21)

(My italics)

Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984